Compliance texts: tough content, soft tone

Compliance management systems have become increasingly important for many companies: Although not compulsory under German law, they have been recommended by the German Corporate Governance Codex as a voluntary way to improve corporate practices (cf. 4.1.3 ff).

Stock corporations are legally required to prevent damages and control risks, and – as outlined in Haufe Personalmagazin, 12/2014 – they can document their compliance with this law by establishing proper compliance management systems.

As a result, many large companies in particular have developed codes of conduct and/or business conduct guidelines. Voluntary commitments of this kind offer many advantages even for SMEs: The promote transparency towards employees, business partners, public authorities and investors. The facilitate ethically and legally correct behaviour. And, last but not least, they represent another step towards an integrated employer branding.

The knack of presenting rules and regulations:

Business Conduct Guidelines – simple, correct, and fully branded

Since codes of conduct usually involve complex regulations, their initial language is often dry and bureaucratic to the point of sounding abrasive. Codices often also embody an accumulation of different regulations from several corporate units – and, as a result, they may lack an integrated style and tonality. This is hardly surprising since different units are responsible for the individual sections of the code, and various departments – such as HR, IT, Health and Safety, and Environmental protection – may have played a part in producing them. Of course, it is vital that the contributions of these subject matter experts inform and serve as the basis for the ultimate Code of Conduct. However, it is equally vital to transform these separate contributions into a unified final document.

The challenge then is to design such regulatory codes in a way that fulfils the standards and requirements of Corporate and Employer Brand Management. How this is possible? Texts abundant with prescriptions and passive wordings tend not only to sound laboursome but also arbitrary. It won’t be enough to just brush up the occasional wording and then apply the pre-given Corporate Design.

The 5-step path to convincing Business Conduct Guidelines (Compliance texts)

  1. Start out with your company’s goals and values: Use these as the vantage point to lay out the benefits which a code of conduct offers. This is possible, for instance, by including a preamble.
  2. Include your top management: A foreword or letter by the CEO or board of directors expressing their commitment to the code of conduct will convince employees that compliance is not just a rule on paper but a practise embraced from the top down.
  3. Pay attention to the structure of your document: All main topics should be presented clearly (e.g. scope, responsibilities, interaction, interaction with third parties, conflicts of interest, data protection etc.). Equally, readers should be able to locate secondary issues easily.
  4. Highlight your main points: The most important messages can be distinguished from the main text by separate captions, abstracts or other markers. Readers should be able to spot them immediately without being prompted to ignore the rest of the text,
  5. Stay true to you colours: Maintain the style of corporate language and corporate design.


This post was first published in German in my blog

Compliance-Texte: Strikt in der Sache, gewinnend im Ton